14th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL, 2021

"NOVEL IDEAS ARE LIKELY TO EMERGE IN TIMES OF DIFFICULTIES, SO I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING MANY INNOVATIVE FILMS MADE DURING AND AFTER THE PANDEMIC."

Kota Nakamura
Marginal: Short Version
Drama
Section: FIND MY CREW 

Marginal: Short Version screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on BFI Player

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Student actors and a student director are rehearsing for a film about a deteriorating relationship. Real life ex-lovers play the main characters. The director named the characters after the actors' real names and based the screenplay on their actual relationships. Things get messy as the film begins to focus on who was spying whom and tries to discover who was to blame for the break-up.

Hi Kota thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

I’ve been trying to keep being creative, even though I had to give up some of my projects. Last March, I was planning to make a film in Sheffield where I was staying on a study abroad programme. The film was to be set in the city, but due to the pandemic, my study in the UK was cut short and I had to return to Japan. As I settled back to life in Japan, I felt I wanted to make a film as my response to these difficult times, with the actors I knew well and with the equipment readily available. In May, we filmed Marginal: Short Version in four days, including rehearsals.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

It offered me time to watch many great films, which inspired many new ideas and a new motivation to make films.  

The fact that everyone was self-isolating made me think more about human relationships. I felt very strange that people kept a distance from one another with an invisible, or visible, barrier in between. I’m sure this particular situation helped to form the core idea of Marginal very much.

Congratulations on having Marginal: Short Version selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of Finding My Crew section?

I feel much honoured to be part of the BFI Future Film Festival. Last February, I enjoyed the festival as a visitor. I was hugely inspired by the passions of the filmmakers around my age. I’m more than happy to be back to the festival as a director this time.

Marginal: Short Version is about a group of young people making a film. My own crew were my friends in the filmmaking society. In this respect, Find My Crew perfectly describes our production and our film.

Can you tell me a little bit about Marginal: Short Version, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay? 

Jacques Rivette’s Out 1: Noli Me Tángere (1971) was undoubtedly the inspiration behind Marginal, though the completed film is far from Rivette’s epic works.

Quite by chance, I’d been thinking of making a ‘remote’ film before the pandemic. During the months I was in the UK, I often Skype with my family and friends at home. This experience had made me wonder about the possibility of shooting a ‘remote’ film. 

With Marginal, I decided to use laptops for filming at an early stage. I soon found out that a ‘remote’ film by its nature lacks something important: actors’ physicality. Around the same time, I began watching some of Rivette’s works I hadn’t seen. I particularly got obsessed with Out 1: Noli Me Tángere, the 13-hour joyful film with improvisations and rehearsals for drama. It made me think that I could depict physical interactions between the actors in separate places if the film was about a rehearsal using Zoom. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?

 

We used laptop cameras for shooting a video while simultaneously communicating with each other on Zoom. Obviously, I had never made a film entirely online, so I had difficulty directing, via Zoom, how the actors would move. In order to make it look as if the characters were in the same room, we had to carefully decide in advance how the actors would move within (or beyond) a frame, then rehearsed it over and over. Sometimes I used PowerPoint animation to instruct actors to move from one place to another.

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this project?

Yes. I tried to use the floor plan and interior objects in the actors’ own rooms in the film. But I could also have used the door in Satsuki’s room. The door would have given her more possibilities for acting.

What was the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from making Marginal: Short Version?

After Marginal, I filmed another short film entitled Waiting Out the Rain. I used Zoom in the same way as Marginal, but the plot is more straightforward. It is about two young women in Tokyo and the countryside, talking over the phone. The two friends have lived in entirely different worlds, but they become close to one another again.

Describe your film in three words?

Isolation, transgression, meta-narrative.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

My passion comes from my desire to reimagine and recreate certain moments of my favourite films. It may be the scene in which wind blows or the unexpected editing of sequential shots. I also like collaborating with my friends in the filmmaking society. I always enjoy contemplating a film in progress through discussion with them.

What has been some of the best advice you’ve been given?

“To do something new and unusual, you’ll need to learn from classics.” I don’t remember whose words they are, but they were in my mind while working on Marginal. Marginal was different from any film I had ever seen. That’s why I tried to stick to ordinary filmmaking techniques, such as shot/reverse shot and on-screen/off-screen, referring to some classic films.

"Probably this is a chance to reconsider what the film is in terms of its narrative and production."

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?

Yes. Some may say every story has already been told, but I believe there are still narratives that have never been created. Novel ideas are likely to emerge in times of difficulties, so I look forward to seeing many innovative films made during and after the pandemic.

Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

If we can make a film in these difficult times, using only laptops and smartphones, it may be the opportunity to explore cinema's unknown possibilities. Probably this is a chance to reconsider what the film is in terms of its narrative and production. I want to explore new styles of representation with my fellow filmmakers.

What do you hope people will take away from Marginal: Short Version?

I’d be happy if this film gives them momentum to create something new under any restricted circumstances.

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